Ahhh, the MLB All-Star break. A time for rest, reflection, and celebrities playing softball. While he won’t be color commentating the home run derby, Chris Berman and his echoes of “BACK, BACK, BACK” will remain in our hearts and minds as the MLB’s home run leaders (besides the top five!!) mash baseballs in the country’s capital. Then, the MLB’s best duke it out to prove one and for all that there should either be a DH or no DH, and it is ridiculous that a sport has separate rules for different leagues. You don’t see that in basketball. The Western Conference isn’t forced to play their games with their mascot as their starting center while the Eastern Conference just suits up regularly. Uniformity is not the MLB’s calling card, unless we’re talking pinstripes.
So, who are the biggest surprises of the year so far?
Seattle Mariners (58-39, 2nd in AL West)
Look, I know what you’re thinking, “Colton, the Mariners cannot possibly be mentioned in this list! They’ve lost 7 of 9 games! They rank outside of the top 15 in team ERA and runs scored! The Athletics are only 3 games back and went 21-6 this last month or so (okay, that’s actually a pretty good point)! They’re named the Mariners due to Seattle’s marine culture, but their mascot is a moose (okay, I’m gonna have to look into this)!” Bottom line is, the Mariners lineup is chalk full of guys who can get the job done on any given day. Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, and Nelson Cruz highlight a lineup that is marginally deep. Will they last the rest of the year? I say no. But I also don’t think they should have a moose as a mascot, so what do I know?
Blake Snell, SP Tampa Bay Rays
If you “Google” Blake Snell, a bunch of pictures will pop up of a 14-year old boy in a Rays’ jersey. Nope, that wasn’t a mistake. It’s Snell. He sports the facial hair of a teen boasting about each and every follicle that pokes through. However, his adolescent appearance has not stopped him from racking up a whopping 12 wins (2nd in AL) at a 2.27 ERA (3rd in AL). Due to the injury of Indians’ Corey Kluber, Snell sneaked into the All-Star game after a previous snub. I know the fans don’t vote for pitchers, but maybe the fact that the Rays only attract about 6,000 fans per game had a little something to do with it. Or, maybe there is an age minimum, and plucky Snell over here isn’t quite tall enough to ride the ride.
Jesús Aguilar, 1B Milwaukee Brewers
On June 30, 1990, in the city of Maracay, Venezuela, a beautiful baby boy was born, and they named him Jesús. Did they wrap him in swaddling clothes and lay him in a manger? I can neither confirm or deny that. Aguilar started the season as the odd man out with the Brewers’ logjam at first base. Beloved Eric Thames and longtime Brewer Ryan Braun prevented Jesús from consistent playing time. Aguilar leads the NL in home runs, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+. The surprisingly nimble 250-pounder has also flashed the leather on occasion. The Brewers’ tradition of performing horribly post-All-Star break may come to an end if the Venezuelan can continue to post MVP numbers.
Scooter Gennett, 2B Cincinnati Reds
The NL league-leader in batting average, Scooter Gennett showed flashes of this possible great play last season with his memorable four home run game and nearly eclipsing 100 RBI’s. The crop of second basemen in the MLB is deep, and Gennett figures to rank within the top three at the moment behind Jose Altuve and Javier Baez. While the Reds try to figure out what the heck their organization is going to do, their offensive fire power sure makes for an entertaining day at the ballpark. Followed in the batting order by pure hitter Joey Votto, Scooter sees generous amounts of strikes while maintaining a high on-base percentage. Pretty good for a guy named after a children’s toy.
Philadelphia Phillies (53-42, 1st NL East)
I’m not quite sure how the Phillies are winning the NL East currently. Their lead is only 0.5 games, but even that lead is puzzling. Their best bat (my beloved Odubel Herrera) is only hitting .275 with a team-leading 16 home runs. Their lineup and pitching rotation is laced with names that I have not committed to memory. Their ace Aaron Nola has pitched his way to an All-Star berth, but their staff ranks only 11th in ERA. The Nationals are lurking at only 5.5 games back. The Phillies’ pursuit of Orioles’ slugger Manny Machado are strictly focused on the imminent run that the Nationals will make late in the year. Grabbing a dependable fringe starter along with Machado could almost guarantee the Phils their first playoff spot since the days of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley.